When it comes to college-bound students’ impressions of the relationship between financial aid and admissions, anxiety seems to rule the day. Many of my students and families worry that if they check the box on the college application indicating that they will be applying for financial aid, that will harm the student’s chances of gaining admissions to their colleges of interest. This is a particular concern of my students who don’t think they will qualify for aid. They wonder if it is worth the possible downside admissions risk to even apply for aid.
So, does applying for financial aid have the potential to hurt your admissions chances? This is a bit of a complicated question. The actual act of applying for financial aid should have absolutely no bearing on whether or not a student gains admission to just about any college. Admissions officers don’t simply look at the fact that you are applying for financial aid, assume that you will need lots of it, and then make their decision. Instead, if financial aid is a factor in a college’s admissions decision-making process (and it isn’t a factor everywhere), the Admissions Office and the Financial Aid Office will communicate with each other about your actual level of need, and that is what will be considered. So, you should feel free to check that box and send in your forms! Just applying for aid won’t hurt you.
That said, if you are applying to colleges that are not “need blind” (i.e. schools that consider your ability to pay in the admissions decision), and you do show that you have demonstrated need after going through a school’s financial aid evaluation process, then that need could impact your ability to gain admission, especially if your grades and other credentials aren’t up to snuff.
Still, the prospect of this should not stop you from applying for financial aid. Think about it this way: if you need financial aid, you need financial aid! If a certain college is not going to accept you because of it, then you don’t want to attend that college, anyway. You want to go somewhere that you can get in and that you can afford.
But, what if you are too “wealthy” according to colleges and unlikely to qualify for financial aid and worry that applying will impact your admissibility at some schools? You should still apply. In some cases, if you can actually afford college, making this clear to colleges by sending in your financial aid forms and letting them see that you have the necessary wherewithal to pay may, in fact, help you with admissions! Consider this: colleges are expensive to run, and they need students who have the ability to pay in full. If you can fund your education, and you can show this, it could tip the admissions scales in your favor.
In addition, by filing for financial aid, students become eligible for student loans, whether they qualify for financial aid or they can pay in full. From a parent’s perspective, making students manage a student loan and have skin in the game for their college education is an important lesson in personal responsibility. Not only will it help them learn about how loans work, but it will also make them value their education that much more.
The bottom line is that whether you need financial assistance to attend college or are destined to be full-pay, there are compelling reasons to check “YES” for financial aid and apply. Colleges won’t hold the fact that you applied for aid against you in the admissions process. Just some will care if you actually need it!